|Mark Putnam, Blaine Vincent III, and Jean Christensen.|
Nicole Mae Photography
By Tina Arth
HART Theatre is honoring Hillsboro with the U.S. premiere of My Inlaws Are Outlaws, an utterly absurd and genuinely funny new play by prolific New Zealand playwright Devon Williamson. Based on my own reaction and the opening night audience response, I suspect that I will see more of Williamson’s work in local theaters – he has a comic sensibility that is a perfect antidote to the anxiety overload many of us are feeling these days. Director Paul Roder and his cast obviously had a great time putting this production together, and the result is a consistently entertaining, lighthearted mixture of physical comedy and dark humor. The story is extremely quirky, and might be just a little too silly if played as a farce. Luckily, Roder and cast opted to play each role completely straight, allowing the absurdity of the script to earn the laughs.
Newlywed Dane is the black sheep of the gangster Black clan, having rejected the family’s wicked ways, gone straight, and married Annie, an innocent librarian orphaned years earlier. Rather than tell Annie about his unsavory roots, Dane has lied and claimed to also be an orphan – until he is summoned home by his mother Audrey, the current matriarch of the gang. In the Black family, these invitations are not optional, so he drags his unsuspecting bride to the family homestead where she meets not only Audrey, but also the murderous Grandma, senile Granddad, and Dane’s seriously stupid sister Desiree (whose Welsh accent seems out of place until she explains that she has joined Greenpeace and is now intent on saving Wales). Dane is dragged to a family meeting off-site, leaving Annie to cope with a series of unusual assassins – Russian Natalya, Irish Finn and Donal, and the deadly Rosa Botticello, an Italian nonagenarian with a bad heart and an evil eye. Given the number of assassins on site, there is not much killing – in fact, the only actual death turns out to be quite accidental.
The uniformly solid cast delivers some really superb moments. Dalene Young is hilarious in both her roles (as Grandma and as Rosa Botticello). Young’s irrational outbursts and unstoppable trigger finger keep the family hopping (often literally) as Grandma, and her silent physical comedy as Botticello is a joy to watch. Patti Speight’s almost (but not quite) over-the-top Russian accent matches the unpredictable intensity of her delivery – sort of like Natasha Fatale (from Rocky and Bullwinkle) on steroids. Mark Putnam (as senior Irish assassin Finn) has a believable Irish accent and the gravitas of a real pro killer. Blaine Vincent III (as Finn’s son Donal) rivals Desiree for the title of stupidest character; he and Putnam form a really fine comic duo that snag many of the show’s biggest laughs.
However, the real star of the show is Jean Christensen (Annie). Her transformation from Act I’s meekly clueless young bride to Act II’s brilliantly crafty manipulator is carried out so subtly that, at first, we don’t even realize what’s happening, and her interactions (with Natalya, Finn, and especially Donal) make the second act a nonstop delight.
Set designers William Crawford and Paul Roder have filled the entire stage with the Black living room, giving ample space for numerous entrances and exits (including Donal’s beloved window) and creating a cheerfully lower-middle class ambience. Heather Sutherland’s lighting creates an outdoor effect when needed without the complications of scene changes, thus keeping the action flowing seamlessly.
Despite the frequent laughs, Act I does seem to drag at times – it is significantly longer than Act II, and perhaps would benefit from faster pacing to compensate. This slight problem is no excuse, however, for missing a U.S. premiere – Hillsboro owes HART a big thank-you for taking the risk of presenting an unknown show, and the community should turn out in droves to support it. There is enough violence and strong language that it should probably be viewed as PG-13, rather than G, rated.
My Inlaws are Outlaws is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through February 26th, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays.